CHAPTER 24. The Evening of a Long Day
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CHAPTER 24. The Evening of a Long Day



That il­lus­t­ri­o­us man and gre­at na­ti­onal or­na­ment, Mr Mer­d­le, con­ti­nu­ed his shi­ning co­ur­se. It be­gan to be wi­dely un­der­s­to­od that one who had do­ne so­ci­ety the ad­mi­rab­le ser­vi­ce of ma­king so much mo­ney out of it, co­uld not be suf­fe­red to re­ma­in a com­mo­ner. A ba­ro­netcy was spo­ken of with con­fi­den­ce; a pe­era­ge was fre­qu­ently men­ti­oned. Ru­mo­ur had it that Mr Mer­d­le had set his gol­den fa­ce aga­inst a ba­ro­netcy; that he had pla­inly in­ti­ma­ted to Lord De­ci­mus that a ba­ro­netcy was not eno­ugh for him; that he had sa­id, 'No-a Pe­era­ge, or pla­in Mer­d­le.' This was re­por­ted to ha­ve plun­ged Lord De­ci­mus as nigh to his nob­le chin in a slo­ugh of do­ubts as so lofty a per­son co­uld be sunk. For the Bar­nac­les, as a gro­up of them­sel­ves in cre­ati­on, had an idea that such dis­tin­c­ti­ons be­lon­ged to them; and that when a sol­di­er, sa­ilor, or law­yer be­ca­me en­nob­led, they let him in, as it we­re, by an act of con­des­cen­si­on, at the fa­mily do­or, and im­me­di­ately shut it aga­in. Not only (sa­id Ru­mo­ur) had the tro­ub­led De­ci­mus his own he­re­di­tary part in this im­p­res­si­on, but he al­so knew of se­ve­ral Bar­nac­le cla­ims al­re­ady on the fi­le, which ca­me in­to col­li­si­on with that of the mas­ter spi­rit.

Right or wrong, Ru­mo­ur was very busy; and Lord De­ci­mus, whi­le he was, or was sup­po­sed to be, in sta­tely ex­co­gi­ta­ti­on of the dif­fi­culty, lent her so­me co­un­te­nan­ce by ta­king, on se­ve­ral pub­lic oc­ca­si­ons, one of tho­se elep­han­ti­ne trots of his thro­ugh a jun­g­le of over­g­rown sen­ten­ces, wa­ving Mr Mer­d­le abo­ut on his trunk as Gi­gan­tic En­ter­p­ri­se, The We­alth of En­g­land, Elas­ti­city, Cre­dit, Ca­pi­tal, Pros­pe­rity, and all man­ner of bles­sings.

So qu­i­etly did the mo­wing of the old scythe go on, that fully three months had pas­sed un­no­ti­ced sin­ce the two En­g­lish brot­hers had be­en la­id in one tomb in the stran­gers' ce­me­tery at Ro­me. Mr and Mrs Spar­k­ler we­re es­tab­lis­hed in the­ir own ho­use: a lit­tle man­si­on, rat­her of the Ti­te Bar­nac­le class, qu­ite a tri­umph of in­con­ve­ni­en­ce, with a per­pe­tu­al smell in it of the day be­fo­re yes­ter­day's so­up and co­ach-hor­ses, but ex­t­re­mely de­ar, as be­ing exactly in the cen­t­re of the ha­bi­tab­le glo­be. In this en­vi­ab­le abo­de (and en­vi­ed it re­al­ly was by many pe­op­le), Mrs Spar­k­ler had in­ten­ded to pro­ce­ed at on­ce to the de­mo­li­ti­on of the Bo­som, when ac­ti­ve hos­ti­li­ti­es had be­en sus­pen­ded by the ar­ri­val of the Co­uri­er with his ti­dings of de­ath. Mrs Spar­k­ler, who was not un­fe­eling, had re­ce­ived them with a vi­olent burst of gri­ef, which had las­ted twel­ve ho­urs; af­ter which, she had ari­sen to see abo­ut her mo­ur­ning, and to ta­ke every pre­ca­uti­on that co­uld en­su­re its be­ing as be­co­ming as Mrs Mer­d­le's. A glo­om was then cast over mo­re than one dis­tin­gu­is­hed fa­mily (accor­ding to the po­li­test so­ur­ces of in­tel­li­gen­ce), and the Co­uri­er went back aga­in.

Mr and Mrs Spar­k­ler had be­en di­ning alo­ne, with the­ir glo­om cast over them, and Mrs Spar­k­ler rec­li­ned on a dra­wing-ro­om so­fa. It was a hot sum­mer Sun­day eve­ning. The re­si­den­ce in the cen­t­re of the ha­bi­tab­le glo­be, at all ti­mes stuf­fed and clo­se as if it had an in­cu­rab­le cold in its he­ad, was that eve­ning par­ti­cu­larly stif­ling.

The bells of the chur­c­hes had do­ne the­ir worst in the way of clan­ging among the un­me­lo­di­o­us ec­ho­es of the stre­ets, and the lig­h­ted win­dows of the chur­c­hes had ce­ased to be yel­low in the grey dusk, and had di­ed out opa­que black. Mrs Spar­k­ler, lying on her so­fa, lo­oking thro­ugh an open win­dow at the op­po­si­te si­de of a nar­row stre­et over bo­xes of mig­no­net­te and flo­wers, was ti­red of the vi­ew. Mrs Spar­k­ler, lo­oking at anot­her win­dow whe­re her hus­band sto­od in the bal­cony, was ti­red of that vi­ew. Mrs Spar­k­ler, lo­oking at her­self in her mo­ur­ning, was even ti­red of that vi­ew: tho­ugh, na­tu­ral­ly, not so ti­red of that as of the ot­her two.

'It's li­ke lying in a well,' sa­id Mrs Spar­k­ler, chan­ging her po­si­ti­on fret­ful­ly. 'De­ar me, Ed­mund, if you ha­ve an­y­t­hing to say, why don't you say it?'

Mr Spar­k­ler might ha­ve rep­li­ed with in­ge­nu­o­us­ness, 'My li­fe, I ha­ve not­hing to say.' But, as the re­par­tee did not oc­cur to him, he con­ten­ted him­self with co­ming in from the bal­cony and stan­ding at the si­de of his wi­fe's co­uch.

'Good gra­ci­o­us, Ed­mund!' sa­id Mrs Spar­k­ler mo­re fret­ful­ly still, you are ab­so­lu­tely put­ting mig­no­net­te up yo­ur no­se! Pray don't!'

Mr Spar­k­ler, in ab­sen­ce of mind-per­haps in a mo­re li­te­ral ab­sen­ce of mind than is usu­al­ly un­der­s­to­od by the phra­se-had smelt so hard at a sprig in his hand as to be on the ver­ge of the of­fen­ce in qu­es­ti­on. He smi­led, sa­id, 'I ask yo­ur par­don, my de­ar,' and threw it out of win­dow.



'You ma­ke my he­ad ac­he by re­ma­ining in that po­si­ti­on, Ed­mund,' sa­id Mrs Spar­k­ler, ra­ising her eyes to him af­ter anot­her mi­nu­te; 'you lo­ok so ag­gra­va­tingly lar­ge by this light. Do sit down.'

'Certainly, my de­ar,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler, and to­ok a cha­ir on the sa­me spot.

'If I didn't know that the lon­gest day was past,' sa­id Fanny, yaw­ning in a dre­ary man­ner, 'I sho­uld ha­ve felt cer­ta­in this was the lon­gest day. I ne­ver did ex­pe­ri­en­ce such a day.'

'Is that yo­ur fan, my lo­ve?' as­ked Mr Spar­k­ler, pic­king up one and pre­sen­ting it.

'Edmund,' re­tur­ned his wi­fe, mo­re we­arily yet, 'don't ask we­ak qu­es­ti­ons, I en­t­re­at you not. Who­se can it be but mi­ne?'

'Yes, I tho­ught it was yo­urs,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler.

'Then you sho­uldn't ask,' re­tor­ted Fanny. Af­ter a lit­tle whi­le she tur­ned on her so­fa and ex­c­la­imed, 'De­ar me, de­ar me, the­re ne­ver was such a long day as this!' Af­ter anot­her lit­tle whi­le, she got up slowly, wal­ked abo­ut, and ca­me back aga­in.

'My de­ar,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler, flas­hing with an ori­gi­nal con­cep­ti­on, 'I think you must ha­ve got the fid­gets.'

'Oh, Fid­gets!' re­pe­ated Mrs Spar­k­ler. 'Don't.'

'My ado­rab­le girl,' ur­ged Mr Spar­k­ler, 'try yo­ur aro­ma­tic vi­ne­gar. I ha­ve of­ten se­en my mot­her try it, and it se­emingly ref­res­hed her.

And she is, as I be­li­eve you are awa­re, a re­mar­kably fi­ne wo­man, with no non-'

'Good Gra­ci­o­us!' ex­c­la­imed Fanny, star­ting up aga­in. 'It's be­yond all pa­ti­en­ce! This is the most we­ari­so­me day that ever did dawn upon the world, I am cer­ta­in.'

Mr Spar­k­ler lo­oked me­ekly af­ter her as she lo­un­ged abo­ut the ro­om, and he ap­pe­ared to be a lit­tle frig­h­te­ned. When she had tos­sed a few trif­les abo­ut, and had lo­oked down in­to the dar­ke­ning stre­et out of all the three win­dows, she re­tur­ned to her so­fa, and threw her­self among its pil­lows.

'Now Ed­mund, co­me he­re! Co­me a lit­tle ne­arer, be­ca­use I want to be ab­le to to­uch you with my fan, that I may im­p­ress you very much with what I am go­ing to say. That will do. Qu­ite clo­se eno­ugh. Oh, you do lo­ok so big!'

Mr Spar­k­ler apo­lo­gi­sed for the cir­cum­s­tan­ce, ple­aded that he co­uldn't help it, and sa­id that 'our fel­lows,' wit­ho­ut mo­re par­ti­cu­larly in­di­ca­ting who­se fel­lows, used to call him by the na­me of Qu­in­bus Fles­t­rin, Juni­or, or the Yo­ung Man Mo­un­ta­in.

'You ought to ha­ve told me so be­fo­re,' Fanny com­p­la­ined.

'My de­ar,' re­tur­ned Mr Spar­k­ler, rat­her gra­ti­fi­ed, 'I didn't know It wo­uld in­te­rest you, or I wo­uld ha­ve ma­de a po­int of tel­ling you.' 'The­re! For go­od­ness sa­ke, don't talk,' sa­id Fanny; 'I want to talk, myself. Ed­mund, we must not be alo­ne any mo­re. I must ta­ke such pre­ca­uti­ons as will pre­vent my be­ing ever aga­in re­du­ced to the sta­te of dre­ad­ful dep­res­si­on in which I am this eve­ning.'

'My de­ar,' an­s­we­red Mr Spar­k­ler; 'be­ing as you are well known to be, a re­mar­kably fi­ne wo­man with no-'

'Oh, go­od GRA­CI­O­US!' cri­ed Fanny.

Mr Spar­k­ler was so dis­com­po­sed by the energy of this ex­c­la­ma­ti­on, ac­com­pa­ni­ed with a flo­un­cing up from the so­fa and a flo­un­cing down aga­in, that a mi­nu­te or two elap­sed be­fo­re he felt him­self equ­al to sa­ying in ex­p­la­na­ti­on:

'I me­an, my de­ar, that ever­y­body knows you are cal­cu­la­ted to shi­ne in so­ci­ety.'

'Calculated to shi­ne in so­ci­ety,' re­tor­ted Fanny with gre­at ir­ri­ta­bi­lity; 'yes, in­de­ed! And then what hap­pens? I no so­oner re­co­ver, in a vi­si­ting po­int of vi­ew, the shock of po­or de­ar pa­pa's de­ath, and my po­or un­c­le's-tho­ugh I do not dis­gu­ise from myself that the last was a happy re­le­ase, for, if you are not pre­sen­tab­le you had much bet­ter die-'

'You are not re­fer­ring to me, my lo­ve, I ho­pe?' Mr Spar­k­ler humbly in­ter­rup­ted.

'Edmund, Ed­mund, you wo­uld we­ar out a Sa­int. Am I not ex­p­res­sly spe­aking of my po­or un­c­le?'

'You lo­oked with so much ex­p­res­si­on at myself, my de­ar girl,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler, 'that I felt a lit­tle un­com­for­tab­le. Thank you, my lo­ve.'

'Now you ha­ve put me out,' ob­ser­ved Fanny with a re­sig­ned toss of her fan, 'and I had bet­ter go to bed.'

'Don't do that, my lo­ve,' ur­ged Mr Spar­k­ler. 'Ta­ke ti­me.'

Fanny to­ok a go­od de­al of ti­me: lying back with her eyes shut, and her eyeb­rows ra­ised with a ho­pe­less ex­p­res­si­on as if she had ut­terly gi­ven up all ter­res­t­ri­al af­fa­irs. At length, wit­ho­ut the slig­h­test no­ti­ce, she ope­ned her eyes aga­in, and re­com­men­ced in a short, sharp man­ner:

'What hap­pens then, I ask! What hap­pens? Why, I find myself at the very pe­ri­od when I might shi­ne most in so­ci­ety, and sho­uld most li­ke for very mo­men­to­us re­asons to shi­ne in so­ci­ety-I find myself in a si­tu­ati­on which to a cer­ta­in ex­tent dis­qu­ali­fi­es me for go­ing in­to so­ci­ety. It's too bad, re­al­ly!'

'My de­ar,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler. 'I don't think it ne­ed ke­ep you at ho­me.' 'Edmund, you ri­di­cu­lo­us cre­atu­re,' re­tur­ned Fanny, with gre­at in­dig­na­ti­on; 'do you sup­po­se that a wo­man in the blo­om of yo­uth and not wholly de­vo­id of per­so­nal at­trac­ti­ons, can put her­self, at such a ti­me, in com­pe­ti­ti­on as to fi­gu­re with a wo­man in every ot­her way her in­fe­ri­or? If you do sup­po­se such a thing, yo­ur folly is bo­un­d­less.'

Mr Spar­k­ler sub­mit­ted that he had tho­ught 'it might be got over.' 'Got over!' re­pe­ated Fanny, with im­me­asu­rab­le scorn.

'For a ti­me,' Mr Spar­k­ler sub­mit­ted.

Honouring the last fe­eb­le sug­ges­ti­on with no no­ti­ce, Mrs Spar­k­ler dec­la­red with bit­ter­ness that it re­al­ly was too bad, and that po­si­ti­vely it was eno­ugh to ma­ke one wish one was de­ad!

'However,' she sa­id, when she had in so­me me­asu­re re­co­ve­red from her sen­se of per­so­nal ill-usa­ge; 'pro­vo­king as it is, and cru­el as it se­ems, I sup­po­se it must be sub­mit­ted to.'

'Especially as it was to be ex­pec­ted,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler.

'Edmund,' re­tur­ned his wi­fe, 'if you ha­ve not­hing mo­re be­co­ming to do than to at­tempt to in­sult the wo­man who has ho­no­ured you with her hand, when she finds her­self in ad­ver­sity, I think YOU had bet­ter go to bed!'

Mr Spar­k­ler was much af­f­lic­ted by the char­ge, and of­fe­red a most ten­der and ear­nest apo­logy. His apo­logy was ac­cep­ted; but Mrs Spar­k­ler re­qu­es­ted him to go ro­und to the ot­her si­de of the so­fa and sit in the win­dow-cur­ta­in, to to­ne him­self down.

'Now, Ed­mund,' she sa­id, stret­c­hing out her fan, and to­uc­hing him with it at arm's length, 'what I was go­ing to say to you when you be­gan as usu­al to pro­se and worry, is, that I shall gu­ard aga­inst our be­ing alo­ne any mo­re, and that when cir­cum­s­tan­ces pre­vent my go­ing out to my own sa­tis­fac­ti­on, I must ar­ran­ge to ha­ve so­me pe­op­le or ot­her al­ways he­re; for I re­al­ly can­not, and will not, ha­ve anot­her such day as this has be­en.'

Mr Spar­k­ler's sen­ti­ments as to the plan we­re, in bri­ef, that it had no non­sen­se abo­ut it. He ad­ded, 'And be­si­des, you know it's li­kely that you'll so­on ha­ve yo­ur sis­ter-'

'Dearest Amy, yes!' cri­ed Mrs Spar­k­ler with a sigh of af­fec­ti­on. 'Dar­ling lit­tle thing! Not, ho­we­ver, that Amy wo­uld do he­re alo­ne.'

Mr Spar­k­ler was go­ing to say 'No?' in­ter­ro­ga­ti­vely, but he saw his dan­ger and sa­id it as­sen­tingly, 'No, Oh de­ar no; she wo­uldn't do he­re alo­ne.'

'No, Ed­mund. For not only are the vir­tu­es of the pre­ci­o­us child of that still cha­rac­ter that they re­qu­ire a con­t­rast-re­qu­ire li­fe and mo­ve­ment aro­und them to bring them out in the­ir right co­lo­urs and ma­ke one lo­ve them of all things; but she will re­qu­ire to be ro­used, on mo­re ac­co­unts than one.'

'That's it,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler. 'Ro­used.'

'Pray don't, Ed­mund! Yo­ur ha­bit of in­ter­rup­ting wit­ho­ut ha­ving the le­ast thing in the world to say, dis­t­racts one. You must be bro­ken of it. Spe­aking of Amy;-my po­or lit­tle pet was de­vo­tedly at­tac­hed to po­or pa­pa, and no do­ubt will ha­ve la­men­ted his loss ex­ce­edingly, and gri­eved very much. I ha­ve do­ne so myself. I ha­ve felt it dre­ad­ful­ly. But Amy will no do­ubt ha­ve felt it even mo­re, from ha­ving be­en on the spot the who­le ti­me, and ha­ving be­en with po­or de­ar pa­pa at the last; which I un­hap­pily was not.'

Here Fanny stop­ped to we­ep, and to say, 'De­ar, de­ar, be­lo­ved pa­pa! How truly gen­t­le­manly he was! What a con­t­rast to po­or un­c­le!'

'From the ef­fects of that trying ti­me,' she pur­su­ed, 'my go­od lit­tle Mo­use will ha­ve to be ro­used. Al­so, from the ef­fects of this long at­ten­dan­ce upon Ed­ward in his il­lness; an at­ten­dan­ce which is not yet over, which may even go on for so­me ti­me lon­ger, and which in the me­an­w­hi­le un­set­tles us all by ke­eping po­or de­ar pa­pa's af­fa­irs from be­ing wo­und up. For­tu­na­tely, ho­we­ver, the pa­pers with his agents he­re be­ing all se­aled up and loc­ked up, as he left them when he pro­vi­den­ti­al­ly ca­me to En­g­land, the af­fa­irs are in that sta­te of or­der that they can wa­it un­til my brot­her Ed­ward re­co­vers his he­alth in Si­cily, suf­fi­ci­ently to co­me over, and ad­mi­nis­ter, or exe­cu­te, or wha­te­ver it may be that will ha­ve to be do­ne.'

'He co­uldn't ha­ve a bet­ter nur­se to bring him ro­und,' Mr Spar­k­ler ma­de bold to opi­ne.

'For a won­der, I can ag­ree with you,' re­tur­ned his wi­fe, lan­gu­idly tur­ning her eye­lids a lit­tle in his di­rec­ti­on (she held forth, in ge­ne­ral, as if to the dra­wing-ro­om fur­ni­tu­re), 'and can adopt yo­ur words. He co­uldn't ha­ve a bet­ter nur­se to bring him ro­und. The­re are ti­mes when my de­ar child is a lit­tle we­aring to an ac­ti­ve mind; but, as a nur­se, she is Per­fec­ti­on. Best of Amys!'

Mr Spar­k­ler, gro­wing rash on his la­te suc­cess, ob­ser­ved that Ed­ward had had, big­godd, a long bo­ut of it, my de­ar girl.

'If Bo­ut, Ed­mund,' re­tur­ned Mrs Spar­k­ler, 'is the slang term for in­dis­po­si­ti­on, he has. If it is not, I am unab­le to gi­ve an opi­ni­on on the bar­ba­ro­us lan­gu­age you ad­dress to Ed­ward's sis­ter. That he con­t­rac­ted Ma­la­ria Fe­ver so­mew­he­re, eit­her by tra­vel­ling day and night to Ro­me, whe­re, af­ter all, he ar­ri­ved too la­te to see po­or de­ar pa­pa be­fo­re his de­ath-or un­der so­me ot­her un­w­ho­le­so­me cir­cum­s­tan­ces-is in­du­bi­tab­le, if that is what you me­an. Li­ke­wi­se that his ex­t­re­mely ca­re­less li­fe has ma­de him a very bad su­bj­ect for it in­de­ed.'

Mr Spar­k­ler con­si­de­red it a pa­ral­lel ca­se to that of so­me of our fel­lows in the West In­di­es with Yel­low Jack. Mrs Spar­k­ler clo­sed her eyes aga­in, and re­fu­sed to ha­ve any con­s­ci­o­us­ness of our fel­lows of the West In­di­es, or of Yel­low Jack.

'So, Amy,' she pur­su­ed, when she re­ope­ned her eye­lids, 'will re­qu­ire to be ro­used from the ef­fects of many te­di­o­us and an­xi­o­us we­eks. And lastly, she will re­qu­ire to be ro­used from a low ten­dency which I know very well to be at the bot­tom of her he­art. Don't ask me what it is, Ed­mund, be­ca­use I must dec­li­ne to tell you.'

'I am not go­ing to, my de­ar,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler.

'I shall thus ha­ve much im­p­ro­ve­ment to ef­fect in my swe­et child,' Mrs Spar­k­ler con­ti­nu­ed, 'and can­not ha­ve her ne­ar me too so­on. Ami­ab­le and de­ar lit­tle Twos­ho­es! As to the set­tle­ment of po­or pa­pa's af­fa­irs, my in­te­rest in that is not very sel­fish. Pa­pa be­ha­ved very ge­ne­ro­usly to me when I was mar­ri­ed, and I ha­ve lit­tle or not­hing to ex­pect. Pro­vi­ded he had ma­de no will that can co­me in­to for­ce, le­aving a le­gacy to Mrs Ge­ne­ral, I am con­ten­ted. De­ar pa­pa, de­ar pa­pa.'

She wept aga­in, but Mrs Ge­ne­ral was the best of res­to­ra­ti­ves. The na­me so­on sti­mu­la­ted her to dry her eyes and say:

'It is a highly en­co­ura­ging cir­cum­s­tan­ce in Ed­ward's il­lness, I am than­k­ful to think, and gi­ves one the gre­atest con­fi­den­ce in his sen­se not be­ing im­pa­ired, or his pro­per spi­rit we­ake­ned-down to the ti­me of po­or de­ar pa­pa's de­ath at all even­ts-that he pa­id off Mrs Ge­ne­ral in­s­tantly, and sent her out of the ho­use. I ap­pla­ud him for it. I co­uld for­gi­ve him a gre­at de­al for do­ing, with such prom­p­ti­tu­de, so exactly what I wo­uld ha­ve do­ne myself!'

Mrs Spar­k­ler was in the full glow of her gra­ti­fi­ca­ti­on, when a do­ub­le knock was he­ard at the do­or. A very odd knock. Low, as if to avo­id ma­king a no­ise and at­trac­ting at­ten­ti­on. Long, as if the per­son knoc­king we­re pre­oc­cu­pi­ed in mind, and for­got to le­ave off.

'Halloa!' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler. 'Who's this?'

'Not Amy and Ed­ward wit­ho­ut no­ti­ce and wit­ho­ut a car­ri­age!' sa­id Mrs Spar­k­ler. 'Lo­ok out.'

The ro­om was dark, but the stre­et was lig­h­ter, be­ca­use of its lamps. Mr Spar­k­ler's he­ad pe­eping over the bal­cony lo­oked so very bulky and he­avy that it se­emed on the po­int of over­ba­lan­cing him and flat­te­ning the un­k­nown be­low.

'It's one fel­low,' sa­id Mr Spar­k­ler. 'I can't see who-stop tho­ugh!' On this se­cond tho­ught he went out in­to the bal­cony aga­in and had anot­her lo­ok. He ca­me back as the do­or was ope­ned, and an­no­un­ced that he be­li­eved he had iden­ti­fi­ed 'his go­ver­nor's ti­le.' He was not mis­ta­ken, for his go­ver­nor, with his ti­le in his hand, was in­t­ro­du­ced im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards.

'Candles!' sa­id Mrs Spar­k­ler, with a word of ex­cu­se for the dar­k­ness.

'It's light eno­ugh for me,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le.

When the can­d­les we­re bro­ught in, Mr Mer­d­le was dis­co­ve­red stan­ding be­hind the do­or, pic­king his lips. 'I tho­ught I'd gi­ve you a call,' he sa­id. 'I am rat­her par­ti­cu­larly oc­cu­pi­ed just now; and, as I hap­pe­ned to be out for a stroll, I tho­ught I'd gi­ve you a call.'

As he was in din­ner dress, Fanny as­ked him whe­re he had be­en di­ning?

'Well,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le, 'I ha­ven't be­en di­ning an­y­w­he­re, par­ti­cu­larly.'

'Of co­ur­se you ha­ve di­ned?' sa­id Fanny.

'Why- no, I ha­ven't exactly di­ned,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le.

He had pas­sed his hand over his yel­low fo­re­he­ad and con­si­de­red, as if he we­re not su­re abo­ut it. So­met­hing to eat was pro­po­sed. 'No, thank you,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le, 'I don't fe­el in­c­li­ned for it. I was to ha­ve di­ned out along with Mrs Mer­d­le. But as I didn't fe­el in­c­li­ned for din­ner, I let Mrs Mer­d­le go by her­self just as we we­re get­ting in­to the car­ri­age, and tho­ught I'd ta­ke a stroll in­s­te­ad.'

Would he ha­ve tea or cof­fee? 'No, thank you,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le. 'I lo­oked in at the Club, and got a bot­tle of wi­ne.'

At this pe­ri­od of his vi­sit, Mr Mer­d­le to­ok the cha­ir which Ed­mund Spar­k­ler had of­fe­red him, and which he had hit­her­to be­en pus­hing slowly abo­ut be­fo­re him, li­ke a dull man with a pa­ir of ska­tes on for the first ti­me, who co­uld not ma­ke up his mind to start. He now put his hat upon anot­her cha­ir be­si­de him, and, lo­oking down in­to it as if it we­re so­me twenty fe­et de­ep, sa­id aga­in: 'You see I tho­ught I'd gi­ve you a call.'

'Flattering to us,' sa­id Fanny, 'for you are not a cal­ling man.'

'No- no,' re­tur­ned Mr Mer­d­le, who was by this ti­me ta­king him­self in­to cus­tody un­der both co­at-sle­eves. 'No, I am not a cal­ling man.'

'You ha­ve too much to do for that,' sa­id Fanny. 'Ha­ving so much to do, Mr Mer­d­le, loss of ap­pe­ti­te is a se­ri­o­us thing with you, and you must ha­ve it se­en to. You must not be ill.' 'Oh! I am very well,' rep­li­ed Mr Mer­d­le, af­ter de­li­be­ra­ting abo­ut it. 'I am as well as I usu­al­ly am. I am well eno­ugh. I am as well as I want to be.'

The mas­ter-mind of the age, true to its cha­rac­te­ris­tic of be­ing at all ti­mes a mind that had as lit­tle as pos­sib­le to say for it­self and gre­at dif­fi­culty in sa­ying it, be­ca­me mu­te aga­in. Mrs Spar­k­ler be­gan to won­der how long the mas­ter-mind me­ant to stay.

'I was spe­aking of po­or pa­pa when you ca­me in, sir.'

'Aye! Qu­ite a co­in­ci­den­ce,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le.

Fanny did not see that; but felt it in­cum­bent on her to con­ti­nue tal­king. 'I was sa­ying,' she pur­su­ed, 'that my brot­her's il­lness has oc­ca­si­oned a de­lay in exa­mi­ning and ar­ran­ging pa­pa's pro­perty.'

'Yes,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le; 'yes. The­re has be­en a de­lay.'

'Not that it is of con­se­qu­en­ce,' sa­id Fanny.

'Not,' as­sen­ted Mr Mer­d­le, af­ter ha­ving exa­mi­ned the cor­ni­ce of all that part of the ro­om which was wit­hin his ran­ge: 'not that it is of any con­se­qu­en­ce.'

'My only an­xi­ety is,' sa­id Fanny, 'that Mrs Ge­ne­ral sho­uld not get an­y­t­hing.'

'She won't get an­y­t­hing,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le.

Fanny was de­lig­h­ted to he­ar him ex­p­ress the opi­ni­on. Mr Mer­d­le, af­ter ta­king anot­her ga­ze in­to the depths of his hat as if he tho­ught he saw so­met­hing at the bot­tom, rub­bed his ha­ir and slowly ap­pen­ded to his last re­mark the con­fir­ma­tory words, 'Oh de­ar no. No. Not she. Not li­kely.'

As the to­pic se­emed ex­ha­us­ted, and Mr Mer­d­le too, Fanny in­qu­ired if he we­re go­ing to ta­ke up Mrs Mer­d­le and the car­ri­age in his way ho­me?

'No,' he an­s­we­red; 'I shall go by the shor­test way, and le­ave Mrs Mer­d­le to-' he­re he lo­oked all over the palms of both his hands as if he we­re tel­ling his own for­tu­ne-'to ta­ke ca­re of her­self. I da­re say she'll ma­na­ge to do it.'

'Probably,' sa­id Fanny.

There was then a long si­len­ce; du­ring which, Mrs Spar­k­ler, lying back on her so­fa aga­in, shut her eyes and ra­ised her eyeb­rows in her for­mer re­ti­re­ment from mun­da­ne af­fa­irs.

'But, ho­we­ver,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le, 'I am equ­al­ly de­ta­ining you and myself. I tho­ught I'd gi­ve you a call, you know.'

'Charmed, I am su­re,' sa­id Fanny.

'So I am off,' ad­ded Mr Mer­d­le, get­ting up. 'Co­uld you lend me a pen­k­ni­fe?'

It was an odd thing, Fanny smi­lingly ob­ser­ved, for her who co­uld sel­dom pre­va­il upon her­self even to wri­te a let­ter, to lend to a man of such vast bu­si­ness as Mr Mer­d­le. 'Isn't it?' Mr Mer­d­le ac­qu­i­es­ced; 'but I want one; and I know you ha­ve got se­ve­ral lit­tle wed­ding ke­ep­sa­kes abo­ut, with scis­sors and twe­ezers and such things in them. You shall ha­ve it back to-mor­row.'

'Edmund,' sa­id Mrs Spar­k­ler, 'open (now, very ca­re­ful­ly, I beg and be­se­ech, for you are so very aw­k­ward) the mot­her of pe­arl box on my lit­tle tab­le the­re, and gi­ve Mr Mer­d­le the mot­her of pe­arl pen­k­ni­fe.'

'Thank you,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le; 'but if you ha­ve got one with a dar­ker han­d­le, I think I sho­uld pre­fer one with a dar­ker han­d­le.'

'Tortoise-shell?'

'Thank you,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le; 'yes. I think I sho­uld pre­fer tor­to­ise-shell.'

Edmund ac­cor­dingly re­ce­ived in­s­t­ruc­ti­ons to open the tor­to­ise-shell box, and gi­ve Mr Mer­d­le the tor­to­ise-shell kni­fe. On his do­ing so, his wi­fe sa­id to the mas­ter-spi­rit gra­ci­o­usly:

'I will for­gi­ve you, if you ink it.'

'I'll un­der­ta­ke not to ink it,' sa­id Mr Mer­d­le.

The il­lus­t­ri­o­us vi­si­tor then put out his co­at-cuff, and for a mo­ment en­tom­bed Mrs Spar­k­ler's hand: wrist, bra­ce­let, and all. Whe­re his own hand had shrunk to, was not ma­de ma­ni­fest, but it was as re­mo­te from Mrs Spar­k­ler's sen­se of to­uch as if he had be­en a highly me­ri­to­ri­o­us Chel­sea Ve­te­ran or Gre­en­wich Pen­si­oner.

Thoroughly con­vin­ced, as he went out of the ro­om, that it was the lon­gest day that ever did co­me to an end at last, and that the­re ne­ver was a wo­man, not wholly de­vo­id of per­so­nal at­trac­ti­ons, so worn out by idi­otic and lum­pish pe­op­le, Fanny pas­sed in­to the bal­cony for a bre­ath of air. Wa­ters of ve­xa­ti­on fil­led her eyes; and they had the ef­fect of ma­king the fa­mo­us Mr Mer­d­le, in go­ing down the stre­et, ap­pe­ar to le­ap, and waltz, and gyra­te, as if he we­re pos­ses­sed of se­ve­ral De­vils.


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